Ethiopia Travel Facts
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is located in the Eastern part of Africa, neighboring Eritrea to the north, and Kenya to the south and southwest, Somalia to the east and southeast, Djibouti to the east and the Sudan and south Sudan to the west and northwest. This area is popularly known as the horn of Africa.
Ethiopia, as large as France and Spain combined, has an area of 1,112,000 sq km. About 65 per cent of the land is arable, with 15 percent presently cultivated.
The Ethiopian landscape is dominated by the volcanically formed Abyssinian highlands, a region often but somewhat misleadingly referred as a plateau, since it is in fact dramatically mountainous. The central plateau is isolated in three sides by low lying semi desert or desert, has an average altitude of above 2000m and includes 20 peaks of 4000m or higher. The Ethiopia highlands are bisected by the rift valley, which starts at Red Sea, and then continues through the Denakil Depression, a desert area that contains one of the lowest points on the earth’s surface, and through Ethiopia to Mozambique in southern Africa. This part of the rift valley south of Addis Ababa is notable for its string of seven lakes.
The most extensive mountain ranges on the highlands are the Simien, which lies directly north of the historical town of Gonder and rise to the fourth highest peak in Africa, Ras Deshen, whose height is 4620 meter above sea level. Another significant range is the Bale Mountains, which lie in the southern highlands to the east of the rift valley. The Ethiopia highlands form the source of four major river system, the best known of this is the Blue Nile locally know as Abay, which rises near Lake Tana in the northwestern and supply most of the water that flows in to Egypt’s Nile valley. The Baro and Tekezze rivers feed the White Nile, the river that flows out of Lake Victoria in Uganda to join the Blue Nile at Khartoum in Sudan. Within Ethiopia the Blue Nile arcs through the highlands south of Lake Tana to form a vast gorge which is comparable in size and depth to Namibia’s Fish River Canyon and the Grand Canyon of USA.
Several other major river systems run through Ethiopia, includes Wabi Shebelle rises from the Bale highlands and courses through the southeast of the country into Somalia. The Omo River rises in the western highlands around Keffa to drain in to Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border. The Awash River rises from the central highland in Showa region near the capital city and then follows the course of the rift valley northwards before disappearing into a series of desert lakes near the Djibouti border.
The country is found within the tropics 3 degree north to 16-degree north latitude and 33 degree east to 48-degree east longitude. In Ethiopia, there are about four seasons:
- Winter: June, July and August
- Summer: September, October and December
- Spring: January, February and March
- Autumn: April, May and July
As a result, there are three principal climate groups in Ethiopia.
- Tropical Rainy Climate
- Dry Climate
- Warm rainy temperate climate
Ethiopia is a multi ethnic state with a great variety of languages spoken in the country, of which there are 83 with 200 dialects. Amharic with its unique Ge’ez alphabets is the official language. English is also widely spoken, other languages Arabic, French and Italian also spoken. Ge’ez is the ancient language, and was introduced as an official written language during the first Axumite kingdom when the Sabeans sought refuge in Axum. The Axumites developed Ge’ez, a unique script derived from the Sabean alphabet, and it is still used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian languages are divided into four major language groups. These are Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan group.
The Semitic languages are spoken in northern, central and eastern Ethiopia, mainly in Tigrai, Amhara, Harar and northern part of the Southern Peoples’ State regions. They use the Ge’ez script that is unique to the country, which consists of 33 letters. Each of which denotes 7 characters, making a total of 231 characters.
The Cushitic languages are mostly spoken in central, southern and eastern Ethiopia, mainly in Afar, Oromia and Somali Regions. The Cushitic languages use the Latin alphabet and Ge’ez script.
The Omotic languages are predominantly spoken between the lakes of the Southern Rift Valley and the Omo River.
- NILO SAHARAN:
The Nilo Saharan languages are largely spoken in the western part of the country along the border with Sudan mainly in Gambella and Benshangul Regions.
The main religions in Ethiopia are Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Paganism. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country and the majority of Christians are Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. There are a minority of Christians who are Roman Catholic and Protestant. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is headed by a patriarch and is related to the communion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and Malankara Orthodox Church of India.
Christianity began in Ethiopia when two Syrian Christians (Frumentius and Aedissius) came to Aksum and started to tell people about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Frumentius and Aedissius influenced King Ezana, who ruled Aksum in the early part of the fourth century, and successfully converted him to Christianity. Immediately after King Ezana converted to Christianity, he officially decreed Christianity as the main faith of his kingdom in 341 AD and ordered Frumentius to go to Alexandria where he was consecrated bishop under the name of Abba Selama by the Patriarch of Alexandria in 346 AD. Frumentius (Abba Selama) then returned to Ethiopia and became the first bishop of Ethiopia and founded the Ethiopian Church. Ethiopia became a powerful Christian kingdom and empire right up to the fifteenth century.
Many Ethiopians claim that the treasurer Eunuch probably introduced the Christian faith when he returned to Ethiopia from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem well before the fourth century, but Christianity did not become the officially recognized religion until the reign of King Ezana in 341 AD. The Eunuch’s pilgrimage is mentioned in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, and verses 26 – 39:
The Axumite kingdom adopted Judaism and the Law of Moses during the reign of King Menelik, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba and then adopted Christianity as main faith in 341 AD. The visit of Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and the pilgrimage by a high official (eunuch) to Jerusalem shortly after the death of Christ shows that the Ethiopians had close connections with the Israelites and Jerusalem. Since then Ethiopia has been observing both Old and New Testament practices.
Even though, the Aksumite kingdom had accepted the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, during and after King Ezana, the Ethiopian Jews known as Felashas or Beta Israel refused to accept Christianity and continued to practice their Old Testament faith which they still do today. The population of Felashas (Beta Israel) is concentrated in Northwest Ethiopia, mainly, in Gonder, Gojjam, Wollo and the west of Tigray province. In 1985 and 1991 they almost all were airlifted to Israel but some still live in Ethiopia. This shows that Ethiopia has unbroken tradition of Old Testament and Judaic culture since the time of King Menelik.
Muslim religion was introduced to Ethiopia in 615 AD when the followers of Prophet Mohammed, including his wife sought refuge in Aksum. The king of Aksum welcomed them, respected their religion and offered them protection. They later settled in Negash, east of Tigray, which became the foundation and one of the most important places for the Islamic faith in Ethiopia. Now a day Islam spread to the east and south east of the country mainly in Harar and Somali administrative regions. The Muslim communities are predominated in these regions.
PAGANISM OR INDIGENOUS BELIEFS
Paganism or indigenous religious beliefs are widely practiced in Gambella, Southern Peoples’ State, and Oromia administrative regions. These regions also contain considerable animist communities.
Agriculture is the rock bed of Ethiopian’s economy; it plays a key role in the development of the nations as well as in the wellbeing of its people. Agriculture employs about 85% of the total population. On other word 90% of the country’s foreign currency generates from export merchandise trade of agricultural products like coffee, oil seeds, pulses, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Among these agricultural products, Coffee is by far the major source of foreign currency, out of the various products Ethiopia exports, over 60% of the income is generated by coffee alone. Coffee Arabica which originated in Ethiopia has been grown for century’s way before any other part of the world. It is not surprising then, that coffee is the most important commercial crop in Ethiopia, contributing more than 60% of the country’s foreign exchange earning. It is considered that the name coffee is derived from the name “Kaffa”, a district in the western Ethiopia where the bean is believed to have been originated. The word coffee already passed into the English lexicon by the year 1700. The French and Spanish call coffee, café, the Italian caffee, the German kaffe, and the Dutch koffie . . . all the names of coffee are related with the name of its birthplace.
The population is estimated about 90 million, over 50 percent of who are under 20 years old. The average number of inhabitants per square kilometer is 49.
Telephone, Tel fax, Internet, email and postal facilities are available in the country. However, internet and fax services are available in the major cities and towns only. The international dialing code for Ethiopia is +251. The main Airport is Bole International Airport located in Addis Ababa. It has various international connection, Domestic flight are also available to various regions of the country.
The Historical route has a daily flight from Addis Ababa to Bahirdar – Gonder – Axum – Lalibela as well as a daily flight to Dire Dawa (south east). In addition, it has a weekly flight to south (Arbaminch and Jinka) and west part of the country.
Ethiopia drives in the right and a valid international driving license also required to drive. Much of the country is accessible on surface, Taxis and city Buses are available in the town, Overland Ethiopia also provides car rental services.
Medical facilities are available throughout the country, but prior to entry is advisable visitors should be in possession of a valid health certificate for malaria, vaccination against cholera is also required for any person who has visited or been in transited through a cholera infected area within six days prior to arrival in Ethiopia. Malaria is endemic throughout the country, visitors should take a recommended anti malaria medicine, before commencing their journey.
The cuisine of Ethiopia is one of the world’s best kept secrets. Ethiopian food is a spicy mix of vegetable and lentil stews and slow simmered meats. This country in East Africa has been called the “Land of Bread and Honey.” Ethiopia, once known as Abyssinia, is a place of high plateaus and low lying plains. The northern high country is populated mainly by Christians, while the plains are home to Muslims and animists. Dietary restrictions in religions have given rise to a wide variety of both meat and vegetarian dishes. While most Ethiopian cuisine is indigenous, certain ingredients such as red chilies, ginger, and spices have enriched its flavors. Grains like millet, sorghum, wheat and ancient teff form the basic breadstuffs of the diet. Most farming in Ethiopia is subsistence, so the vegetables and animals are often grown and raised at home. The ancient practice of beekeeping produces exquisite honey; it is fermented to make local beverage called Tej, a honey wine.
Ethiopians fashion large pancake like bread called injera, Ethiopia’s staple food, made from the flour of the indigenous grain called Teff, which they place directly on the dining large plate. Other dishes that makeup the meals are portioned onto the injera and diners eat by scooping these portions into rolled up pieces of the injera that they have torn off. Injera is eating by thick stews called “wat”, the most popular sauce and can be made from meat, vegetables, or beans. Stews are enlivened with the spicy mitin shiro, a flavorful combination of ground beans, spices, and chilies used to season many foods. There is also a meal called kitfo, made from freshly ground raw beef mixed with spiced clarified herbed butter and eating by bread called “Kocho” made from the steam of false banana tree.
Before every meal in Ethiopia, there is a ritual washing of the hands offered by one of the youngest person from the family. The meal is then served on a large platter that is draped with crepe like injera bread. All guests eat from this one platter. Various dishes are portioned out onto the injera, and diners simply tear off a piece of the Injera, use it to scoop up some of the various stews and pop it in their mouths. Extra injera may be served on the side. A local Ethiopians barley beer called tella and a honey wine called Tej finally washes down all this meals and strong coffee is served accompanied by snacks like small fried cookies known as Dabo Kolo and a big enough local bread called “Anbasha” or “Difo Dabo”, and tourists are highly recommended to try the Ethiopian dishes.
ETHIOPIA’S CLIMATIC CONDITIONS ARE TERMED IN THE TRADITIONAL FASHION AS FOLLOWS:
- WORCH: Chilly, medium to low rainfall Afro – alpine regions (3,200 – 3500m) supporting a cover of heath like vegetation that isn’t generally conducive to cultivation.
- DEGA: Cool temperate highlands over 2,500 meters above sea level
- WOYNA DEGA: Moderate warm lands lying between 2,500 to 1,500 meters above sea level
- KOLLA: Hot lowlands lying below 1,500 meters
- BEREHA: Hot and arid desert lowlands that typically lie below 500m and receive significantly less than 500mm of precipitation annually, and generally not cultivatable so mostly inhabited by pastoralist.
In Ethiopia, heavy rainfall occurs in summer, from the beginning of June to end of September. Mean minimum and mean maximum temperature also vary spatially and temporally. Generally, mean maximum temperature is higher from March to May and mean minimum temperature is lower from November to December as compared to other months. The lowest mean minimum temperature mostly occurs over the highlands of the country, most of the highlands experience mean minimum temperature as low as zero degree centigrade from November to January while the higher mean minimum temperature (20 Degree Celsius to 30 Degree Celsius) is observed over the Danakil Depression (Northeastern part of the country), the southeastern and western lowlands of the country and the highest mean maximum temperature (45 Degree Celsius) is found over the Denakil Depression. The mean annual rainfall ranges from less than 100mm over the Northeastern parts to an excess of 2800mm over the southwestern parts of the country. Ethiopia’s mean annual distribution of rainfall is characterized by the direction of both Westerly and Southeasterly winds. Thus, Ethiopia’s mountainous areas receive more rainfall compared to the surrounding lowlands. One main factor for this spectrum of climate is ascribed to high variation in topographical features of the country.
WHEN TO VISIT
Ethiopia can be visited at any time of year. Travelers are often advised against traveling during the rainy season, which normally runs from June until end of September. A lovely time of year is September through to early October, when the whole country is a riot of wild Meskel flowers.
The most popular time to visit Ethiopia is between October and January, when the rains are over but the countryside is still quite green. Many travelers try to schedule their trip to coincide with important festivals such as Ethiopian New Year, Ethiopian Christmas, and Ethiopian Epiphany know as Timket or Meskel the feast commemorates the discovery of the cross upon, which Jesus was crucified, by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The European winter is also the best time for birds, as resident species are supplement by large number of Palearctic migrants.
Ethiopia is slightly twice the size of Texas; with the total area of 1,112,000 sq km, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan are its bordering countries. Ethiopia’s geographical and historical factors have had a great influence on the distribution of its people and languages. Ethiopia is the only African country that has its own alphabet, language and religious notes called Geez. Through its long history, Ethiopia has become a melting pot of diverse customs and varied cultures, some of which are extremely ancient.
Ethiopia embraces a complex variety of Nations, Nationalities and peoples and linguistic groups. Its people, all about 83 different tribal groups’ altogether speaks about 83 different languages with some 200 dialects and grouped under major four sections called Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo Saharan languages. Ethiopians are generally considered as courteous and hospitable, they are regarded as trustworthy, sincere, friendly and hard workers. To some others, Ethiopian’s are a patriotic people, who selflessly stand for the love of freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their motherland.
ARK OF THE COVENANT
Many Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant exists and still rests in Aksum. It seems likely that the Ark was brought to Ethiopia when Menelik I returned to Aksum from his visit to his father, King Solomon, in Jerusalem. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Ark of the Covenant has remained in Ethiopia ever since and is now kept in a small chapel, which stands at the heart of Aksum’s monastic complex of Saint Mary of Zion. This makes Aksum the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia.
The Ark of the Covenant is the most reserved holy relic of God’s incarnate and became part of the Orthodox Tewahedo Christian belief. A replica of the Ark of the Covenant, known as the tabot (the tablet), is kept in the holy of holies (Maqdas) in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The presence of the Ark indicates that the church has been duly consecrated and the belief in the Ark of the Covenant exerts a profound influence on the imaginations and spiritual lives of many Ethiopians. One holy monk is elected and charged with its care and preservation. He becomes the guardian of the Ark. No-one, except the official Guardian (a monk), who looks after the Ark of the Covenant, is allowed to enter the chapel. Before the guardian dies, according to Aksumites tradition, he must nominate his successor.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products i.e. egg, butter, milk, and cheese on fasting days. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belief, the faithful must abstain from eating meat and diary products to attain forgiveness of sins committed during the year, and undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and atonement. However, the sick, travelers and the weak may be exempt from or reduce the fasting periods but if they want to observe the fasting, they can fast the whole or part of the fasting periods. As for those who observe the fasting periods, they will continue to do this through out their life or as long as they are able to do without restrictions.
Church services are held daily in all Orthodox Tewahedo Churches from early morning to 3 PM. Only one meal is allowed during the fasting days and the first meal is taken after the church mass is complete at 3 PM, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.
THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHRISTIAN FASTING PERIODS ARE:
- All Wednesdays and Fridays except the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost.
- TSOME NEVIYAT [the fast of the Prophets known as Advent]: 43 days fasting before Christmas which starts from 15 November to 28 December Ethiopian Calendar.
- TSOME GAHAD [THE VIGILS]: One day fasting time which takes place on Christmas Eve i.e. 28 December Ethiopian calendar and the day preceding before Epiphany i.e. 10 January Ethiopian Calendar.
- TSOME NENEWE (THE FAST OF NINEVEH): 3 days fasting which starts on the Monday proceeding before Abye Tsome (Lent)
- ABYE TSOME OR HUDADE [LENT]: 55 days fasting before Ethiopian Easter which is divided in to the following three categories:
- TSOME HIRKAN: 8 days fasting; this starts 8 days proceeding before Tsome Arba.
- TSOME ARBA: 40 days fasting; this starts immediately after Tsome Hirkan up to Palm Sunday.
- TSOME HIMAMAT: 7 days fasting which starts on the Monday after Palm Sunday until Easter
- TSOME HAWARYAT (the fast of the Apostles): begins on the day following Pentecost until 5 July Ethiopian calendar.
- TSOME FILSETA (THE FAST OF THE HOLY VIRGIN MARY): 15 days fasting this takes place from 1 – 15 August Ethiopian calendar.
- Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit, and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten during fasting days. Meat and diary products are only eaten on feasting days i.e. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and at all other times. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, Jews and Muslims do not eat pork as it forbidden by their religious beliefs.
VISA AND IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENT
Visa application may be obtained at Ethiopia’s diplomatic missions overseas. How ever, nationals of 33 countries are now allowed to receive their tourist visas on arrival in Ethiopia at the regular charge. The list includes Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greek, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States.
Ethiopia is in the GMT+3 hours time zone, Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of 30 days each and a thirteen month of five or six days at a leap year.
THE ETHIOPIAN YEAR
The Ethiopian calendar is much more similar to the Egyptian Coptic calendar having a year of 13 months, 365 days and 366 days in a leap year (every fourth year) and it is much influenced by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which follows its ancient calendar rules and beliefs. The Ethiopian calendar is seven years and eight months younger than the Gregorian (Western) and Eastern Orthodox Church calendars.
Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar due to the fact that Easter was drifting away from its springtime origins and so lost its relation with the Jewish Passover. Since 1582, the Gregorian (Western) calendar has become the religious, cultural and civil calendar for most of the world. Because of ideological differences, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church did not accept the Gregorian calendar and continued to use the Julian calendar with lunar tables for calculating Easter, together with other religious and cultural holidays.
The date of Christmas in the Ethiopian calendar always falls on December 29, but this date is January 7 in the Gregorian calendar i.e. 13 days after the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches have celebrated their Christmas. However, the date of Easter in the Eastern, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Churches’ calendars falls 7 days after the Jewish Passover which date determines the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches’ Easter.
Although the Julian, Gregorian, Coptic and Ethiopian calendars have the same number of days in a year (365 days and 366 days in a leap year), the counting systems giving the number of days in each month, and number of months in a year, of the Julian and Gregorian calendars differ from the Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic calendars. The Ethiopian and Coptic calendars consist of 13 months where the first 12 months have 30 days each, and the last (thirteenth) month has 5 days (6 days in a leap year). The Gregorian calendar consists of 12 months with January, March, May, July, August, October and December having 31 days, April, June, September and November, 30 days and February having 28 days (29 days in a leap year).
The Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11 (September 12 in a leap year). In Ethiopia the first month of the year is September and the last (thirteenth) month of the year is called Pagumien, which comes after August. Each month has 30 days (from September to August) and the thirteenth month, or Pagumien, has 5 days (6 days in a leap year).
Addis Ababa has hotels that cater for all pockets, from the luxurious Sheraton and Hilton Hotels to tourist class hotels, such as the Ghion, Inter Continental, Harmony, Jupiter and Hotel De Leopol International, the Ethiopia, National and the Wabesheble Hotels, and all tourist destinations offer a choice of modern hotels and lodges.
Many Ethiopians are very particular about clothing, it is usually recommended to wear lighter clothes during day and warmer during the night. The temperature of the country is varying from area to area and asks your tour operator for more advices on what dressing before departing.
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr, made up of 100 cents. Notes are issued in denomination of 1,5,10, 50 and 100 Birr. There are five different coins 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents. Banks are available throughout the country in the major cities and towns. The usual working hours are from 8:00 am – 4:30pm, Monday to Friday and 8:00 am to 11:30 am on Saturday.
- Duty – Free import is permitted for up to:
- 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or ½ IB of tobacco
- One liter of alcoholic beverages
- ½ liter or two bottles of perfume
Ethiopia uses 220 Volts and 50 HZ. It is best to bring your own round, two prong adaptors and transformer if it’s possible.